US appeals to Europe to help close Guantánamo
After privately asking European officials to take some freed Guantánamo Bay inmates, the United States Attorney General is making a public appeal for help in closing a detention facility for terrorism suspects that has been widely condemned abroad.
Attorney General Eric Holder arrived in Germany early on Wednesday after visiting London and Prague to talk about Guantánamo, extradition agreements and international investigations.
The attorney general was to meet with reporters in Berlin before delivering a speech about Guantánamo at the private American Academy.
For years, European leaders have urged the US to close the US naval detention facility in Cuba, but they have been much cooler to appeals by the Bush and Obama administrations to take some of the detainees themselves.
Currently, about 240 inmates are still held at Guantánamo. By one measure, as many as 60 may not be sent back to their home countries because of concerns they could be mistreated.
On Tuesday, Holder received encouragement from Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer, who told the Associated Press he believes some European nations will accept Guantánamo detainees. Langer was quick to say his own country would not.
“Yes, I expect Europe will take some, and there is a strong will do so among some countries,” Langer said. Langer’s country holds the presidency of the 27-nation European Union.
His remarks followed a private meeting with Holder and some European justice officials, including EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot, Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask and Czech Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil.
The Obama administration maintains that some of the remaining Guantánamo detainees can be set free safely and hopes to send some of them to Europe.
“We need to find places for these people to go, and we have asked for assistance from our partners in the EU in that regard,” Holder said after the meeting. “No promises were made.”
When it comes to the prospect of having former international terror suspects living free, the Obama administration is trying to overcome the not-in-my-backyard sentiment that exists on both sides of the Atlantic.
Several European nations, including Portugal and Lithuania, have said they will consider taking such detainees.
Others, like Germany, are divided on the issue.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy already has made what was billed as a symbolic gesture of agreeing to take one Guantánamo detainee.
Simon Koschut, an associate fellow with the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said he was skeptical of Sarkozy’s offer and the ability of Europe to agree on a workable solution within the one-year time frame President Barack Obama has set for closing Guantanamo.
“The message coming from Europe is the familiar one of disunity, but in this case it’s essential to find a consensus,” Koschut said.
Langer, the Czech interior minister, said European leaders do need to agree on Guantánamo.
“No one can say, ‘You cannot take people,’ or ‘You have to take people,”’ he said.—Sapa-AP